February 11, 2001 GMT
East Turkey

Meet three British guys who are cycling to Sydney today. To keep up the calories they are eating three meals for my one. They have no guidebooks or maps. A pocket diary with a Times world map printed in the back cover is sufficient. With a ruler and a splodgy biro they have drawn a line from London to Sydney: ďitís for directionsĒ.

Take my extra fuel filter off: it is causing big loss of performance when the fuel gets low. And re-do the rack that the boys in Bethnal Green bodged. So far: the new fuel tank they fitted had a cloth left in it; the fuel filter they fitted is no good; the rack they made has broken, the fan-on switch is unusable, the valves were set wrong and the bolts they used for the engine guard protruded into the path of the front tyre.

Get dragged off the street into the local school and end up doing two year nine English lessons. Flashback. Just like back home: shabby buildings, and teachers with all the same issues about pay, status and overwork. The women work themselves into the ground, and the men get the management jobs because they can wear a dark suit better.

Weather is real bitter now. Two thousand metres above sea level. Not looking forwards to the big climb tomorrow shown on my map by a brown elevated area the road goes right through.

In Erzurum British our cyclist friends catch up. Funny how meeting someone on the road for a second time is enough to confirm a friendship. Itís good to meet British boys. Despite my English manners and received pronunciation, I quite like a few beers and leery talk now and again. Theyíre a bit stuck. Iran is not giving visas to Brits and US citizens, which is tough on those who arenít personally responsible for bombing, wrecking and exploiting the Middle East. We discuss options. I had read somewhere about shipping from the Red Sea to Pakistan. They consult their diary map, eat more pitta and set off toward Jordan.

The climb doesnít materialise, but I swear Iíll never drip kebab fat over my map again. Still, with the wind-chill I donít like to think how cold it is. Maybe only taking summer gear was a mistake? I shove newspaper down my jacket and buy big mittens from the army surplus store. I canít brake or use the clutch but my fingers arenít blue any more. The roads are spectacular at times but ice hides in the shade cast by the valley sides. I remember coming off on my bicycle on the way back from school several times in the ice. Hurts your bum. Same principles must apply, so high gear and nice and slowly does it. Stay away from the brakes. Seems to work.

Thereís no other traffic. Europe is a long way behind now. I am finding the emptiness of these roads and the wide unfamiliar spaces a little frightening. Everything on a motorcycle is more intense. Thatís why it is so good. Multiply every sensation tenfold. Welcome to the real world. No walls, no bars, nothing between you and what you see, smell, hear and feel. When the sun flicks through the trees on a long straight you catch yourself thinking of heaven. In a car you wouldnít notice. But on these desolate white-covered plains today itís a different kind of intensity, not unlike looking at the ocean off a ship. The world seems big and I am very small and insignificant, easily forgotton.

Posted by at 11:08 PM GMT
 


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